- Supervisors & managers
- Premia - making research education accessible
- Supervising disabled researchers - Premia
- Making the viva accessible
- Making adjustments - case studies
- Case study 7: Ian
Case study 7: Ian
Ian has Asperger's syndrome and has social communication difficulties.
People with Asperger's syndrome have social communication skills across a wide spectrum. Examiners would expect that candidates understand their language, including imagery, and non-verbal communication. Ian could be at a substantial disadvantage because figurative language and understanding of non-verbal communication could be very difficult for him to interpret and process.
Ian's requirements in the viva will depend very much on the panel's understanding of his needs. He can be coached in techniques for oral examinations, although it could raise confidence in the process, it is unlikely that practice vivas will achieve substantial gains. The adjustments which may be needed are to do with the language in which examiners frame their questions and their verbal and non-verbal responses to Ian in the viva.
Several months before the viva, the supervisor and Ian's disability adviser discuss with Ian the process of the viva and what difficulties, if any, Ian envisages. Ian has a very thorough understanding of his disability and the possible impact of the viva. With Ian's permission, the supervisor talks with the examiners and the chair of the panel several weeks before the viva and discloses Ian's disability. The disability adviser writes a briefing for the examiners and, having discussed it with Ian, gives examples of the type of question which he will find difficult. The examiners decide that they will write down all the questions to be asked to ensure that they avoid imagery and colloquialisms. All the questions are written in plain English.
During the viva the examiners keep to the prepared questions and, when commenting or asking subsidiary questions, make sure that they too are expressed in unambiguous, literal language. Having been given a briefing on the difficulties for Ian in non-verbal communication, they can take account of this in the viva. The panel will feel more confident in conducting a robust viva with Ian because they have been well-briefed in advance.
For further information and insight, you might read Marc Segal's, a Manchester University graduate, Coping: a survival guide for people with Asperger syndrome.
The Engineering Subject Centre has a case study of a student with Asperger's syndrome.
The Autism Research Centre (Cambridge University) has a range of resources, including information about Asperger's syndrome.